How One Thriving Business Invests In Their People – EP 008

By Ryan Kononoff

How One Thriving Business Invests In Their People – EP 008
Entrepreneurs Vs. Coronavirus

 
 
00:00 / 38:35
 
1X
 

Charlotte Lepp, Cofounder & Chief Recipe Taster at Lepp Farm Market shares about the challenges (and opportunities) their Essential Service business is facing amidst COVID-19 and how they’re both adapting to the changing world and innovating to move their business forward. 

Short on time? Read the quick summary here: 3 Things Every Business Should Be Investing In Right Now

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EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION

Ryan Kononoff: There’s been a considerable amount of media attention lately surrounding Essential Service workers and the remarkable work they’re doing in keeping up with demand, helping to keep us all safe, and in many cases, working under more challenging circumstances. 

So we’re all eating at home more often than usual which means we’re all visiting the grocery stores a little bit more and so this next interview is one we can all appreciate. 

Charlotte Lepp is the co-founder and CRT or chief recipe taster at Lepp Farm Market. If you’re from the Abbotsford area, and you’ve had the opportunity to eat there, or to shop there, you’ll know that they’re great at what they do. But I’ll let her talk more about that. 

Charlotte shares her story of how Lepp Farm Market is thriving right now. She shares how their culture, their core values, and most importantly their people, who have all bought into their cause, are the reason for their success. What I got really excited about on our call is how they’re investing into their people right now to ensure that everyone, not just the customers, has the support they need.

One more thing before we jump into the interview. Listen for Charlotte’s perspective on how less is more, how they’re recognizing where they’re more efficient, and on how they’re seeing this as an opportunity to try things they wouldn’t have otherwise. Things that will put them in a better position to succeed in the future. 

[INTERVIEW]

Ryan Kononoff: Charlotte, welcome to the entrepreneurs versus Corona virus podcast. Appreciate you coming on today.

Charlotte Lepp: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Ryan Kononoff: So to jump right into it, tell us a little bit about let farm market. For those that haven’t heard of you, what do you do? Who are your typical customers and, and a little bit about your business.

Charlotte Lepp: Okay. Well, we actually left, our market was already started out of  a opportunity for Rob and I, my husband and I had to pivot during a crisis. When I sat and thought about that today, I thought, yeah, that’s exactly how that’s farm market started. We were commercial hog farmers. My husband had started with his dad.

We were both born and raised in Abbotsford, so grew up, had a farming background, and when he graduated from high school, he joined his dad on the farm and eventually we bought out the rest of the family and it became our family’s operation. And if you know anything about agriculture and supply management system, the pork is not a part of a supply management system.

So prices vary a lot, really wide swings, and you sort of prepare for that as a hog farmer. But it was getting to the point where the swings were more than we could manage and we just decided before we were too old to do anything else, we needed to decide whether… Whether we were going to just continue to keep trying to ride it out or get innovative and do something different.

And having a farm, you also have to have a lot of land. And so probably 20 years before that, we had started growing sweet corn and we have a great corner right on the Abbotsford/Mission highway  and Clayburn road, and we own that. And so we started setting up a little green corn shack and selling fresh sweet corn there.

And realized really quickly actually, that if we could sell directly to the public, that is where you can make money in agriculture. Plus we love doing it. And so we got to be kind of a bit of a landmark on the highway there and people kept asking us, when are you going to set up something around? And like I said, we realized how much we enjoyed doing that.

Face to face interaction and kind of at the same time, the whole local movement food movement really started to gain ground and the book a hundred mile diet had just come out and it was written by a couple in Vancouver who committed to only eating food that was grown within a hundred miles of them for a whole year.

And that really launched kind of the local food movement. And I have always loved to cook and garden and read lots of cooking magazines. And so I could see this trend really starting to take off. And I knew that when I saw the big chefs on the food network and in magazines start to talk about it, that I knew that this was a trend that wasn’t going to be going away.

So that’s sort of how it started. We were going to start with just a little vegetable market and we kind of scribbled on a napkin for. My husband is much more of a risk taker than I am, and he just kept making a bigger and bigger and bigger market. We had now full-blown butcher shop, so it’s left for America is year round and we call it a gourmet farm market because we have butchers on staff, so we have like a 50 foot long fresh beet case.

Produce, groceries, a cafe. It’s all very integrated. And at the same time, we cut back our pork production to only raise the pigs that we actually needed for the market. And we bought some chicken quota. So the chicken and the pork is raised by us according to our specifications. And we, we eliminated the use of antibiotics, gave our animals more room.

We’re not certified organic. We’re kind of a. Halfway between conventional farming and organic. And then we also purchased an orchard in a soleus, and that grows five or six different kinds of fruits that we bring down to the market. And we start also started growing strawberries and a few other summer vegetables.

And so we’re, we’re 10 years into it now, and we were just. Kind of starting to really feel like we were getting our feet underneath us and knew what we were doing, and then COVID hit.

Ryan Kononoff: Wow. So 10 years, and you’ve accomplished a tremendous amount over that 10 year period. Just to be clear, so you’re based in Abbotsford, you’ve got an orchard out in the Okanagan and your farms. Are they located close by in Abbotsford? Whereabouts?

Charlotte Lepp: We have a parcel out on as soon as flats, and that’s where most of our. Vegetable production happens just because the land, there’s so much sand here and we can get on the land a lot quicker, which means we’re already planting corn there. And at the end of March this year, the chicken and the pork is raised on the property right behind the market. And then our friend owns a ranch in Ashcroft, and so we buy all the calves and he raises all the beef animals for us there. It’s just a drier climate. It’s just better for beef production there.

Ryan Kononoff: Wow. So that’s quite the operation. And again, in a, in a fairly short period of time that you’ve been able to get all of that up and running. And how large is your, just speaking about about operation, what does staffing look like for you? How many people are part of your team?

Charlotte Lepp: We do a lot of things in a small space. So we, we, and everything that we do is done in house. So we make all of our own deli needs. We break down full carcass animals, so we need a full butcher team.

Our cafe makes everything from scratch. And so at the market, we probably have around 60 people employed between full time and part time staff. And then in the summertime, of course, when we’re in the midst of harvesting, we bring in another 30 days. Seasonal workers from Mexico. So when we have our summer staff barbecue at the end of August in our backyard, uh, we’re right around a hundred people at the barbecue.

So that’s a little overwhelming. We went from having like four employees on the farm and just have a little green corn shack to, to this in 10 years without any retail experience whatsoever. Totally went with our guts on it and it’s gone well, but wow, did we have a steep learning curve, especially those first few years.

So we were just just hiring, hiring, hiring more people, because people really bought into the local food movement. The community support was amazing. We were far busier than we had ever expected right off the bat. And so it looked like things were going well, but in the background, we were just peddling like furiously like a, you know how they talk about a duck, just serene on the surface, but underneath there’s just a lot of chaos happening.

Ryan Kononoff: So talk to me a little bit about your revenue models, because you touched on it a little bit. You’ve got a cafe, you’ve got a number of different products that you, you grow, but you’ve also got some other things that are going on in the background around different types of lessons, and so talk to me a little bit about, about revenue and what that looks like for the market.

Charlotte Lepp: I will say that we have learned that everything that we’re doing shouldn’t work. If you look at the models of a grocery store, you see that they’re getting bigger and bigger. They’re cutting out their meat departments, they’re centralizing rather than doing it in house.

And so everything that we’re doing really swims upstream from what a conventional grocer would tell you. There’s a lot of far markets out there that, you know, bring in locally farmed products, but. We have yet to find one that is as integrated as we are with actually growing what we’re doing. So we really are the farmer.

We raised the beef, pork and chicken. We grow the fruits, we grow some vegetables. And uh, we were also doing some, you alluded to some cooking classes. We were doing that for a while, which was sort of a dream of mine. I just, I love doing that and it really resonated with well with people. I would say the last two years we have stopped doing that.

And that’s simply a staffing issue. The unemployment picture even six months ago compared to today is vastly different. And so we were having a hard time finding enough staff to do all these things, and of course, cooking classes and evening hours, and we need people there that can operate the kitchen and all of that.

So that’s one reason that we put that aside. We did do some wholesale as well with, especially with the strawberries and the corn, but other than that, it’s just pretty easy. Self-contained. We do what we do, and we have a lot of shoppers that love to shop fresh and love to shop every day or every other day.

We see lots of people that come in every single day at the end of the day, and it’s more of a European model, right? Or they’re just buying what they need for the day. And in the beginning, we noticed that customers were very much, people like our age. The kids had left home, they were entertaining more at home.

But over the 10 years, we’ve really seen that broadened into, you know, a wide cross range of people, and, and again, I said the, the local food movement continues to gain strength. And if there’s one positive that’s going to come out of this. For us, regarding COVID is that food security is going to be another huge issue that people are going to be talking about.

Again, we don’t have, we never had an issue with bringing in chicken or beef or pork because we grow it ourselves. So we weren’t supplying, we weren’t relying on outside supply chains for that.

Ryan Kononoff: So let’s talk about Coronavirus, and get into that in a little bit more depth. What were your immediate thoughts when Covid 19 started to hit the news?

Charlotte Lepp: There was a day that we’ll always mark on our calendar, and it was actually Friday, March the 13th. It was Friday the 13th, because that was the day that school was supposed to end. Then people were going on spring break the holidays. And you know, a lot of people typically leave, especially in the Fraser Valley.

And I think the first “Oh boy” moment we had was a couple of days before that we had two managers that were planning on leaving with their families on vacation to the US and one to Mexico. And we had a conversation with both of them and we said, listen, we don’t know what this Corona thing is or what it’s gonna look like two weeks.

But. We just want you to know that we may have to ask you to isolate when you come home. Like that was just such a foreign term or concept, but we just saw things starting to shut down and it was really like literally on that Wednesday, Thursday before spring break hit, where everything kind of shut down and you know, Disneyland shut down and suddenly everyone’s plans were changed.

Our slowest months at the market are January, February, March, and it starts to pick up a little bit in April when warm weather hits and barbecue season. Our busiest day of the year is December 23rd but we staffed for that. We prepare for that. We ramp up our supply for that Friday.

The 13th was like December 23rd for us. We just didn’t know what had had us and we were not prepared and. Everyone’s canceling their holidays, but their kitchens are all empty, right? Because they are all planning on going away. So suddenly we had tons of people in the store and we’re all, you know, restocking their house.

Everybody’s plans got changed, and those next couple of weeks were. I thought opening the market was stressful, but that was really, really stressful because things changed by the hour, you know, every day. What’s the newest thing that the government is telling us we have to do? So it went from, first of all, getting through that first week when everybody was stocking up, and thank goodness we don’t sell toilet paper.

So we didn’t have the hoarding. We had people buying. Big grocery shops and the one thing that we did sell more of than we have ever sold is ground beef, which is funny because that’s the one thing we’re always trying to figure out ways to get rid of. It was sort of the end of that second week that our son Jason, who’s our head butcher, he just, he said, Lepp’s ground beef is the new Kirkland toilet paper.

Like we just couldn’t, we couldn’t keep up with anything. But you’re making tons of decisions about, okay, now we’re taking the chairs out of the cafe, and now we’re shutting down the cafe completely, and we can’t keep up with what people are wanting. So, you know, each department sort of looked at things and went, okay, what are the basics?

What do we need to keep basic, et cetera in stock. So our deli team cut way back on their production of all sorts of, like of a wide variety of things. Our meat department started focusing on hamburger and hamburger patties and ground beef. And, uh, and so that, that first week was just. What’s happening and we were just exhausted cause we’re just all trying to cover for each other and, and the store’s crowded.

And then we got into the social distancing talking about that. So as that all happened, I would say the first thing when I think of COVID is I think of fatigue because we were just exhausted those first two weeks trying to figure out what was going on. Then next came to anxiety. And that would be for our team as well, not just the guests that are coming to us, but for our team because we don’t have a huge space.

And now all of a sudden they’re talking about how contagious it is and you know, now we need to figure out, okay, now what do we do in our physical space to give everybody room? And we had a number of staff that said that first week, we’re just not coming to work anymore and we just can’t handle this.

And we went, that’s fine. It’s like it has to be your choice. There’s a job waiting for you. When you feel comfortable enough to come back? Um, I would say the next big thing we did was we looked after our team and we figured out, okay, how do we help reduce the anxiety level for them? So we actually brought in a counselor and we decided that we were going to sign everybody up for two 20-minute slots to speak to a counselor and they could opt out if they wanted to, but it just gave them a place to talk to somebody else. So for that whole first week, we had a counselor on staff almost that whole week, and we just rotated through all of the staff and we did a couple of Zoom meetings on how to handle your own personal anxiety.

And we figured we need to just back up and make sure our team as well looked after. I mean, that was a big issue for us is how do we keep our team healthy. How do we bring down the anxiety level of everybody and so that we can continue to function because we knew we’re going to be an essential service. We’re going to keep going. So that was really our first big push was looking after our team.

Ryan Kononoff: Wow. I like that. I like how you you, you went from this, this period of fatigue to. Does period of, of anxiety. And then recognizing that the most important thing that you are able to do through that was to look after your team.

And perhaps those other two will self address or at least be reduced to a more manageable level. And I love your proactive approach to bringing in some outside help to provide that, that level of support to your team. So that to me, that’s really innovative and, and I love hearing that. So let’s backtrack a little bit and talk about your biggest challenges of business before Corona virus hit and sort of how that pivoted to the time that we’re in right now, as as to your biggest challenge on a day to day basis today.

Charlotte Lepp: You know, it doesn’t matter whether you’re selling groceries or you know you’re a landscaper, whatever, your biggest challenges are always figuring out how to work together as a team. Figure out what your values are. Figure out what do you want your company identity to be in the community. So we surrounded ourselves with great people.

We, and when I talk about things that we’re doing at the market, I’m really speaking on behalf of an entire management team. We have nine of us on our team, and we’re a pretty strong force to be reckoned with, and we’re very united in things. So I think the biggest challenge for us has always been trying to figure out who are we, who do we want to be, what are our values, what are our core values, what’s our vision for our market?

And then sticking to that with every decision we make, because we aren’t a big grocery store, we don’t have the buying power of a grocery chain. So our products are just going to inherently be more expensive because we pay more for them because we’re just a single purchaser. But what kind of a guest experience do we want to create for the people that come to our market?

And again, how do we live that out through our values? And so I would say it’s taken us 10 years as a team. We met again, our management team in January. And we, we feel like we finally nailed down an easy to remember company vision. And we have four core values that we set from day one. And we haven’t varied from those.

And we talk about them every single day with our team and we hire based on that. We have hard conversations based on our core values, but we kind of came up with our company vision and we’ve tried a few different ones, and it was, “Best place to work, best place to shop.” And so our biggest challenge has been always trying to keep those things in the forefront.

When the, grocery stores started to do the online shop, you know, we kept saying, do we need to take a look at this? Is this something we want to do? And yet our business model was totally different because we talk about being community, being a gathering place for our community. So did that fit with our values of being the best place to shop?

Now COVID has changed all that. That’s probably been one of the biggest ones because we were starting to explore the online shopping, talking about for a couple of years, we probably would have spent another three or four years talking about it, and we implemented it in a limited way in about a week.

So that was a big challenge for us. The other challenge is just honestly physical space because we’re not a big market. So, people were used to that already in our farm market. It’s kind of a farm market type thing, right? Like a little smaller space. It’s not like a big wide open grocery store, but now how do we do that when we have to physically distance from each other and we are only allowed to have so and so many people in the store.

So that was, that was another big challenge that we had to kind of figure it out and still working on where’s that sweet spot and how do we do that? Thankfully people are having to wait in line almost everywhere they go. So we’re not the only ones that are asking people to wait in line so that we can keep the numbers in the store at a certain level.

And the one thing that that actually did was it created a much calmer environment because now the store is not so crowded and the guests feel more comfortable. Our staff feel more comfortable, and it’s, evened out our sales, we don’t have the peaks and valleys in the hourly sales like we did earlier, now it’s pretty much even across the board. Because we limit how many people come into the market at one time.

Ryan Kononoff: So you talked about your core values there, and I know that was one of the things that I picked up on your website is you list them there, but you also list the importance of them. And one of them is fanatical day makers. Can you talk to me a little bit about how that plays out today? Like what does that look like as a customer walking into your store or calling your store up today? What does that play out like?

Charlotte Lepp: You know, everyone talks about customer service being kind of their, their big thing. But we decided that we, we didn’t only want to just make your day, we want it to be fanatical about making your day.

And of course, that’s not something that we achieve air that we’ve perfected, but it is a goal that we set. So when a guest phones and says, you know, can I get a certain kind of meat or is it possible for you to do this? We just like to say yes as much as possible. We want to make your experience at Lepp Farm market a great one, and we want you to remember that.

So how has that changed? We do here. and it’s, we’re so grateful to hear that. Like people say, they feel comfortable now during Covid coming to Lepp farm market because they feel safe. They use that word a lot. And the reason is we’ve hired, we called them our concierges, and it’s actually my, my brother and my brother in law, but they’re, but they stand at the front door and they sanitize every single basket and cart every single time someone uses it.

And we have a sanitizing, we call them the Sani crew. And they walk around, you know, all day long. And they’re just spraying handles and keeping surfaces clean. And, and, , you know, talk about pivoting. We were able to pivot. What are some of the things that our customers need now? We’ve never sold yeast before.

We just have a small little grocery aisle. But we had people asking us for it. And so we were able to reach out to our bakery supplier and suddenly we were able to find yeast there. And you know, customers will phone in and say, you know, is there any chance you can get something ready for me? I mean, we haven’t yet.

Launched an online like phone in an order. We just don’t have the team members available to do that, but we just try and say yes to almost everything people do or go over and above what people expect. I mean, we’ve had team buy in like our staff are amazing. We’ve had. People, our staff paying for people’s groceries when their debit card didn’t work or they forgot their wallet at home and just we, Rob and I are just so privileged to be the ones to hear it or when we go out in the community, but we hear from people all the time, your staff are amazing.

We love coming to shop there. They’re friendly, they’re happy. They look like they’re enjoying their day, and we’ll try and do whatever we can to make your shopping experience there. A good one, a positive one.

Ryan Kononoff: And Charlotte, how has this impacted your revenues and maybe both revenues and overhead, cause you’ve talked about the need to bring in more staffing. You talked about counselors and your cleaning crew and the concierge. How, how has this impacted income and your overhead as a business?

Charlotte Lepp: We did a quick sort of six weeks, this six weeks compared to six weeks last year. At the same time, our numbers are telling us that our customer count is down by about 20% but our revenue is quite a bit higher.

And so what we have learned actually as we’re starting to have a little bit of time to kind of evaluate the data, and that is that we’re actually more efficient. With doing less things than we did before. So, you know, we’ve, we’ve already said, okay, in a few months we have to sit down, or even sooner than that and go, these are the things that we changed.

These are the things that we’ve learned. This is how we actually work. Our revenue could increase. And. What do we do going forward? Because we already know we’re not going back to the way things were before. Everything has changed and we’ve also learned some things as a business that we can do better because we’re forced to do better.

We just needed to work more efficiently. Figure out how to bring in different things to meet our customer’s needs. We’ve started a small online shopping that we continue to adapt and work with, and that’s taken off and who knows what that will look like when finally life does return back to normal. Will we still continue with that because we don’t know the answer to that question.

Ryan Kononoff: So just talking about the future, if this does persist for six months or longer, what do you see as your single greatest challenge as a business?

Charlotte Lepp: Summer is produce season and summer is our busiest months. June, July, August, September are we’re just rocking all four months. So what do we do with these people that are coming. And I realized that I’m talking, we’re one of 

the very few, I say these things, you know, with so much respect for all the business owners that are out there, that are sitting at home being forced to sit at home, we don’t have, we don’t have time to do that.

We, I hate to sound like we’re just, you know, businesses just thriving. Um, our numbers are up like our, I’ll just be honest about that. As every food business is around, around the, the. North America because people are eating at home. So food sales have just increased across the board. But you know, we have the luxury of going to work everyday and knowing that people are coming.

And so I, again, I just want to say, I say that with the greatest respect for all these poor business owners that are sitting at home, not able to work. So as I say that, you know, we’re going to be slammed those people. So that’s kind of why I say that, but our biggest challenge is if the physical distance and continues, how do we accommodate all the people that come in summertime when a farm market just draws in so many people because of all the fresh produce that’s available?

How do we accommodate them? You know, how many more tills do we have to get going? We have to set them up outside so we can keep everybody’s space from each other. That’s, that’s actually probably our biggest challenge. And even, you know, some of the government initiatives that have come into place, are we going to have our summer students come back to work if they have the option of not going to work and still getting a government subsidy?

We need a lot. We need staff. So that’s, that’s another area that we’ve been considering is, how to, how do we make sure that people want to come to work when they do have that option actually, of staying home and still getting a paycheck from the government?

Ryan Kononoff: And how, how does this impact the seasonal workers? You mentioned that a little bit earlier. You have, typically you’ll have 30 or so seasonal workers that come to work with you. Is that something that is off the table at this point, or what does that look like?

Charlotte Lepp: Agriculture would absolutely shut down in Canada without seasonal workers. I dunno how many, if people realize how precious these Mexican workers are that come, they come from other countries as well.

So once those borders shut and, we’re just starting to ramp up our farming, you know, do we plant the same acres of corn that we always have? Are we going to have people here to harvest it? And I know the immediate argument back to that one is, well, why can’t you hire Canadians that are now out of work?

But we actually need these workers to work with us all the way until the end of October when our pumpkins are finished. And if we say, okay, now we’re just going to hire local people, and then all of a sudden their jobs all open up and they all go back to work. Well, the strawberries and corn are not going to sit around and wait for.

For us to now get the workers in from other countries or whatever. So that was a huge concern across the country as far as agriculture goes. And they have now reached an agreement that when the foreign workers, seasonal foreign workers do come in, they have to self quarantine for two weeks and you have to pay them during that time, but they’re not allowed to work.

And they also can’t live in your seasonal housing where you already have other foreign workers that are in, because you need to be isolated from them, so. You know, farming works on very, very tight margins. So the thought of us and every other farmer out there having to bring in all these foreign workers and pay their way to come pay their wages, they’re not working, we have to pay, find extra housing for them.

So the government has now done quite a few initiatives that have helped a lot. So we now have, we brought, we had five guys come just before they shut the border down, so they were able to work in the orchard. We’ve got a few more now that are have arrived and they are, they’re self isolating in Vancouver and the government has found hotels for them to stay at, so they can do their quarantine period there.

We still don’t know if we’re going to get our full 30 but we’re going ahead with planting our full acreages and we’re just hoping that we can, we can bring in all the workers that we do need. We’re just happy that it looks like we’re going to be able to get at least the majority of them that we need here to harvest all our crops.

It’s hard work. It was a fantastic, it made all of us chuckle a little bit. Penticton Herald had a, their headline last week was local farmer farmer hires two local workers to harvest or to help and they quit after the first day. Cause I said it was too hard. These foreign workers work really, really hard.

Farming is hard work. And I don’t know how many local people there are that would want to work as hard as they do. And we just appreciate the sacrifices they make to come here to help us farm so that we can all enjoy this fantastic produce. And I mean, of course it’s beneficial for them. They’re able to support their families there, but they make huge sacrifices.

Every one of the guys that worked here, the Fraser Valley alone has about 3000 of them. And every one of those guys has a family back home that they are separated from. And so I always hope that people appreciate when they’re eating all this locally grown produce. The sacrifices that have gone in by these guys to make sure it gets to our tables.

Ryan Kononoff: So you talked a little bit about the other businesses that have been forced to close their doors. They’re not essential services, they can’t work from home. The reason that we started this podcast was to provide some inspiration to, to provide examples, tangible examples of how businesses are adapting and pivoting.

And there are stories that are easier to tell their stories of success and thriving, but some of those stories are stories of survival and all of these can and have helped other entrepreneurs to pivot in, in their own businesses. So when we look at Lepp Farm Market, an essential service, you guys are doing well. You’re doing a ton to adapt to the changing environment that’s around you. Where do you see this the greatest opportunities for you in all of the changes that are taking place and what’s next for Lepp Farm market?

Charlotte Lepp: The biggest brand new initiative we took on was the online shopping, and that’s not going to go away after this is over, like people are going to become very accustomed to the convenience of that type of thing.

So that’s going to be a big part that we’re going to be looking at. What does that look like for us? You know, are we taking away from the community feel of the market if we continue with this? We’re doing some innovative things like we, you know, Friday the 13th hit and then we kind of moved into Easter pretty quick.

And so we started out, we started healthy online shopping with, um, creating boxes for people because we just don’t have the manpower to be able to shop individually with people’s individual grocery lists. We just can’t accommodate that. And in the beginning we had no idea what our supply was going to be like.

We didn’t have butter, we didn’t have eggs. So you know, what does that mean? Now, every single online order, we have to phone them and adapt. So we kind of created some boxes and we’re still working with those. We’ve now made a vegetarian one and frozen meals and, but with Easter, then we started creating catered meals, like Thanksgiving meal for two, and we sold a lot of those.

It’s just so interesting to try and figure out what’s going to sell, and then when it does, you’re just so pleasantly surprised because you put a lot of thought and energy and setting up different systems to work for this. Now we have mother’s day coming up, so we’ve created like a brunch box that the family of four can take home with all the cooking instructions.

We created a little video of our son Jason and his daughter doing it, putting it all together. And so that was kind of a fun project. So we’ll see how that goes. So for us, I think the biggest thing will be the online shopping. We’ll have to figure out to what extent are we going to take that people are just gonna want to continue that, I think, and what will our worlds look like a year from now? I mean, how, how many people will replace face to face meetings with virtual meetings? You know, are we going to go back to that set of things? So figuring out what people’s needs are. And like I said, the whole food security thing is something that people are going to become more and more aware of.

There’s a few big poultry and beef processing plants that have had to shut down because they’ve had some illness among the workers. So is there going to be a shortage of that? People are used to going to the grocery store and getting what they need, especially here where we just live in this unbelievable country and part of a world where we’re able to do that.

So food security will be, will be something that’s really going to be talked about. Where’s our food coming from? How do we process more of that in Canada so that we know that we’re going to have an ample supply of that? And even other manufacturing, like even some of the food products that we import from the US or that with a dollar the way it is now, we’re looking at alternatives, you know, where can we source that’s Canadian made?

And I think that’s going to be a big part of the conversation too, is people are going to be looking at not just food, but other products. How can we become more self sufficient as a country and start doing some of these things for ourselves along with the food security?

Ryan Kononoff: So you’ve talked a lot about different innovative ideas that have turned into different initiatives, left farm market. How are you rallying your team around this innovation? Is this inspired through you, Charlotte, or do you have a number of people that are coming up with these ideas? How are you promoting those?

Charlotte Lepp: I’m here representing a team of nine people, our management team, so that’s our head chef, kitchen manager, butcher, produce department, grocery and myself and Rob, and then our marketing manager as well.

So we do a lot of brainstorming. We went from a weekly management meeting to a daily management meeting, which we’ve cut back down to three times a week because everything was changing so quickly. So we have a lot of creative people on staff and nothing gets the kitchen team charged up, like watching the video of someone cooking what they have, just this idea that they’ve put together.

And you know, our, our marketing manager does a fantastic job of promoting the things on social media and getting that message across. And so, no, it’s definitely not driven just by me. We have a very creative team that just loves to rise to the challenge and has come up with some really great innovative ideas. So we’re, we’re just count ourselves very lucky to work with them.

Ryan Kononoff: That’s fantastic. So to those who are listening, who might be struggling in their business and maybe they haven’t found that opportunity to pivot or shift or to innovate, what resources or suggestions could you make to them.

Charlotte Lepp: We listened to lots of podcasts and do lots of reading.

Like I said, we didn’t know anything about retail when we started, so we had to start finding people to educate us about this. We have worked with a business coach since day one and his name is Trevor Throness, and he’s actually from Abbotsford, and he has recently in the last couple of years written a book called The Power of People Skills. And it’s a, I would highly recommend it to anyone who has more than one staff person. Like if they work with people, they need to read the book because that’s everyone’s challenge, right? It’s figuring out the people pieces. And, um. And I started following, uh, when we first opened a guy on Facebook called Whizbang! Retailing, and I heard him speak at a conference before we even opened.

And he’s a real advocate for small independent businesses. And one of the podcasts he did when all of this started, he said, an independent retailer and independent business person, you are a dinghy in a sea of ocean freighters. And that was. That one has really stuck with me because he said, you can just pivot on a dime.

You don’t have to ask head office for any permission. You can come up with crazy ideas. You can try them. And if they don’t work, you just turn around and start rolling in a different direction because you have the ability to do that as an independent business owner. So that was a really great piece of advice that, uh, that I would ask people to consider, and that’s Whizbang! Retailing. We listened to podcasts like Andy Stanley’s and other one. Donald Miller is another one. He does a lot of stuff on marketing. He just did a webinar recently on how to pivot during a crisis and that that was really helpful for us.

So I would say educate yourself, especially if you are someone who is sitting at home right now and you’re not able to be open. You’ve got the time to do that and be brave and don’t let any crazy idea get away on you. You try anything you never, you just never know. It’s going to be really interesting a year or two from now to see what really innovative ideas have come out of this crisis, because people come up with really great creative ideas.

Ryan Kononoff: They won’t know if they don’t work, if they don’t try it. Right. I love that, and I love, I love the analogy about the dinghy and you know, to me, that’s just so practical right now. There’s so many things we can try. If we don’t try, we won’t know whether it’s going to work or not. And it sounds like. You’ve tried a lot at this time and some of the things that are working and every day you’ve got an opportunity to continue to adapt and pivot. So I appreciate you sharing with us today, Charlotte. Thanks for being on the show. What’s the best way for people to reach out if they’d like to connect with you?

Charlotte Lepp: They can email me at C Lepp. So C L E P P @leppfarmmarket.com all one word. Two PS, two M’s in there, and I’d be happy to answer any other questions that, uh, if anyone has any about that.

Ryan Kononoff: And if they want to find more about a farm market, where can they find that information?

Charlotte Lepp: leppfarmmarket.com is our website.

Ryan Kononoff: Fantastic. Thanks so much, Charlotte. Appreciate you for coming on the show.
Charlotte Lepp: You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.